Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Century before Statehood: The Forlorn Land the Zionists “Stole”

One hundred years before the realisation of the Zionist dream, an English clergyman , Reverend A. G. H. Hollingworth, travelled in the Jewish homeland and surrounding region, and in 1849 published The Holy Land Restored. The following extract was printed in the London Jewish Chronicle (15 March 1850), and hardly depicts a land abundant with milk and honey.  The extract (to which I append a description of Tiberias at the same period) appears here with no further comment from me (the pictures are from another source):

All its ancient fertility has been obliterated. As if the earthquake had become its only tenant for centuries, its valleys and mountains are riven and dislocated, shattered and torn, heaped with rocks and gravel, deprived of soil and wasted, as if repeatedly burned with fire. The heart of the modern traveller becomes oppressed with a profound melancholy as he moves in silence over the vales. Or when standing on the summit of some precipitous range, he overlooks a wide and extended plain, his eye wanders gloomily upon the deserted face of this which was once the glory of all lands, and he turns in wonder to those pages that describe its original fertility....

If you turn towards the sea coast, the sea itself seems slowly to have retired from the melancholy spectacle of its woes, and has left many cities inland which we know were formerly on its shores. Rocky pinnacles, that existed as islands, stand up in sudden desolation amid the low levels of sand and stones, whilst an ominous silence, disturbed only by the solitary shriek of some bird of prey, reigns profoundly on all sides. The cities are cities of the dead. Tombs cover the land. The inhabitants are scattered from each other, and live in single hundreds, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of monuments, each witnessing to the populousness of former generations, and the present sterility. From millions the population of Syria has diminished to thousands; whilst, in some places, single families alone remain, to declare that the land is weary of its present inhabitants, and cals out for new tenants. The mystic Euphrates, which has been hitherto flooded by streams of Arabians and Turks, is fast drying up, and the way for the emigration of a new people to regenerate these kingdoms is rapidly preparing.

If you proceed into the interior, vast plains, covered with a succession of brilliant flowers, arrest the eye of the traveller. The soil is secretly pregnant with a hundred teeming harvests, yet there is no one to reap them, none to sow; and the villages, castles, palaces and ancient cities, meet the sight in every direction. Birds of prey soar in silent attention over these places. Wild animals of the chase make their homes among the relics of a nation’s greatness, and jackals and wild dogs howl from the depths of their old vaults and ruined habitations.

Now and then a few wild Arabs scour across the plain upon their noble horses, or a few oppressed and despairing villagers are seen in their old men and women, with melancholy movements endeavouring to gather in the scattered ears of wretched harvest whilst their sons and husbands have been driven away by force, to become the military slaves of a cruel master in Egypt and Turkey. The whole country seems abandoned to the robber Arabs, and their countless migratory tribes. Human life is insecure and uncertain. No one who sows knows who will reap their harvest, and those who hastily gather it, with their weapons by their sides, hurry it home like men who are stealing from a land which is not their own.

The traveller watches every distant cloud of dust, lest it should reveal the glittering gun-barrels or spears of a robber-horde. Rapine plunders and makes it a temporary home. Men of peaceful, commercial, or agricultural pursuits choose any country inhabited even by savages for their residence, rather than these the most ancient seats of civilisation, and the richest country. In the heart of the best portion of the world, at the head of the most renowned sea, with ports that were originally the mistresses of the most lucrative commerce between the east and the west, it is inhabited only by necessity, and a man snatches a hurried and feverish existence, without comfort or settled security, from its plains and mountains.

The desolation is almost complete, yet the population of late years goes on diminishing, and will do so until the mystic river of Turkish strength becomes “dried up”, and “the way of the kings of the east”, or Jews, shall be thus prepared. The rivers appear to have all diminished in volume and breadth. The springs which in ancient times flowed and wept for very joy in every ravine and on the sides of all the hills, are parched up and wasted; their rocky urns are filled with dust; and the repeated earthquakes have probably been the messengers sent to recall them for a time into their deep recesses, for they are no longer to be found.

Kishon, celebrated in the Scriptures for its rapidity, is only now an uncertain stream, foaming with sudden violence, or creeping as an insignificant brook along the plain. Yet rains are abundant. The houses, built of mud, are often carried away before the unexpected torrents, and springs burst out suddenly even within the bed-chambers, and are then as suddenly withdrawn. The roofs of the houses are frequently on a level with the mule-tracks, and the traveller in rainy seasons falls, to his astonishment, through the softened mud roof into the midst of the Arab or Jewish family below.

In no other country in the world is there such a mass of arid rocks, and without a particle of soil, as on these mountains of Judæa, which were formerly so renowned as the most beautiful and fertile gardens in the earth. The ancient terraces upon their sides are all in ruins. The violent rains wash down the mould into the valleys; and the rock, which is always in a state of decomposition, and this furnishes new soil, is yet at the same time so clean, and washed as if by the hand in every season, that it remains a hideous spectacle of barrenness and desolation...

The whole land thereof is of brimstone and salt and burning; it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth there ...

And here’s a view of Tiberias (Jewish Chronicle, 12 April 1850); author unrecorded:

The Jewish population of Tiberias amounts to 1,500 souls, Spanish and German. They have six synagogues and two colleges. Their houses have the appearance of comfort, and their synagogues and colleges are more spacious and kept cleaner than those at Jerusalem. Their own external appearance is also superior to that in the Holy City, as regards dress and cleanliness.

Besides the Jews, there are about 400 Mahometans, and 40 united Greeks, who have a small place of worship in the house of their priest.

During our residence at Tiberias we visited the much celebrated warm bath near the shores of the lake, about thirty minutes south of the town. Two young Jews accompanied us, who showed us their cemetery situated in that direction. As we walked along, we saw several remains of the ancient city.

When we were about half way, one of our companions pointed to a large stone in the lake, and said that this was Miriam’s well, by which the lake was formed. Near the baths is the tomb of the celebrated Rabbi Mayer [Meir], one of the doctors of the Talmud. Around the tomb there is a divan of stones, upon which the Jews of Tiberias are seated on the first of every month, to read certain prayers. Higher up the mount is the tomb of Rabbi Akiba, with his 24,000 disciples.

We visited, also, the tombs of Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Sacchi, Rabbi Asa, Rabbi Ama, and Maimonides. These tombs are about twenty minutes north-east from the town, and kept in very good repair. They are much venerated by the Jews, who visit them often. Higher up the hill are shown the tombs of Zilpah, Bilhah, and Zipporah, Moses’ wife.

We saw little of those rich productions of soil, of which Josephus speaks in such glowing language, as seen in his time.

No trees covered the environs of Tiberias; the olive, everywhere at home in Syria, is here a stranger. A few scattered palms, which bear no fruit, planted over the tomb of a Mahometan saint, were the only trees to be seen. Not that the ground had lost its fertility, for wherever the lazy Arab had sown the grain, its growth was luxuriant, and the wild grass stood often six feet high; and the finest oleanders, which were now in bloom, were to be seen in several places. A singular superstition is here connected with this plant. When we were about to gather some, our Jewish guide exclaimed, "Do not touch these flowers, for if you should smell them they will injure your sight", and you will become blind; and we afterwards heard the same confirmed by others.


  1. The single superstition about oleander is not groundless. Wikipedia and agree. The plant is highly toxic. The sap can cause eye inflammation. It can be deadly. The wood cannot be used to cook with or burned for heat. Nor can the wood be used for hunting (spears) as it will poison the prey caught. It is dangerous to all forms of life and yet it is used as an ornamental shrub!

    The article also resoves a question from one of your previous postings. To wit, the apparently contradictory accounts of the state of the Land at various points in history. The soil was never infertile, it just required working.

    A most interesting posting. Thank you.

  2. Glad you like the piece, Ian.

    The oleander is widely grown in parks and gardens in Australia - and it's certainly very decorative, with white, pink, or deep-pink blossoms. I didn't realise how devastatingly poisonous it is, though I did know that its leaves should not be nibbled!

  3. Oleanders are common in Houston and Galveston, and they are quite pretty. One of my earliest memories is my grandmother warning me and my cousins to avoid the oleanders in the back yard.